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Supporting innovation in Australia

Craig Walter

On 21st February the South Australian government announced that it intended to discontinue funding the body known as InnovateSA after June of this year, notwithstanding that it was getting ‘runs on the board’. This news item took my mind back to a short paper that I wrote in 2004 entitled ‘The Need for an Entrepreneurial Bank’. The following comments are based on an addendum to that paper.

Politicians, community and business leaders use the cry of innovation as one way to garner public support about funding for education, something that is always on the public’s mind. However that high sounding rhetoric is far removed from the practical matter of providing actual support for the entrepreneurial framework required for exploiting innovation.

The proposal, which I support, to set up an entrepreneurial bank for the purpose of funding innovative and bold projects has been denounced recently by government representatives as implausible. Citing that various ‘professors’ have studied this proposal and see no pathway – as intimated by the SA Venture Capital Board at a meeting in 2004.

However it may be argued that Australia requires public funding and/or national business funding as a springboard to set innovation in motion owing to its specific demographics, unlike (say) the USA or China, each of which has its own powerful driving forces.

It is only necessary to turn to a country like Sweden to see how readily innovation can be embraced and supported, despite that country’s dearth of physical resources and its relatively small population.

A real collaboration between Government (society) and industry is required. Eight years has elapsed since this paper was written and programs like InnovateSA have now lost their funding. Does this indicate that no more than lip-service is being given to this vital issue and that we are resigning ourselves to only the ‘mining pit’ option?

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